Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rough Drafts Are Ugly

I’ve posted before on basic thoughts of writing rough drafts, and this is meant to enhance and elaborate on the theme. For whatever reason, I’m still working through the notion that rough drafts are ugly.

To stop and ponder the best way of phrasing something is to kill the idea. I’m not suggesting that there is no thought process at all, but there’s a difference between using your imagination and then writing the story as you see it versus using your imagination and then filtering those ideas into what might look the best. Subsequent drafts take care of the clean-up process.

I promised elaborations, so I’ll open up a bit. No, I won’t share text from a working draft. They are hideous, and I refuse to let anyone see them willingly. But I will share a few specifics on what I have purposefully skipped over.

I gloss over a name if I don’t have one readily available in mind and realize that pondering the name will slow me down too much in the moment. In place of the true name, I use a stand-in that I can find/replace later (Control-H for the win). Usually I put in something basic, like Bill, which I know I won’t leave alone in a fantasy story. In fact, bland names are a good motivation to do some extra thinking when I’m away from my writing desk.

One example from my current work in progress is that I had a character who found the first road. Two paragraphs later, this character found the first house. I saw it on a subsequent writing session as I was getting my bearings and was severely tempted to edit. But I refused. I know I’ll fix it later, so there was no need to address it in the moment.

Another point of slowness for me is choosing the right word. Sometimes, it’s that I can’t think of the actual word for something. I was recently trying to think of the device that’s used for holding candles, and for whatever reason, “candlestick” was not coming to mind. In its place, I wrote “hand-held candle” and highlighted it. This isn’t something that happens to me all the time, but when it does, it can drive me up the wall or drive me into Google (which can turn into a long research hunt).

Remember that rough drafts can be ugly. Plan for them to be horrid. Then you’ll be free to create without the confines of polish, grammar, vocabulary or whatever else may get in your way.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Magazine Submission Statistics

There’s something about statistics that I find intriguing. They can reveal good information in some circumstances, and sometimes they’re simply entertaining. I’ve discovered over the years that there are quite a few statistics available for submissions to magazines, and I’ll share how I analyze some of the data that I find.

One statistic I often consider is the number of submissions reported to a magazine over a given time period. Sometimes, you can find this information out directly from the magazine editor; if not, you’re limited to what was reported through your favorite market search tool, such as duotrope (which is always a subset of total submissions). This number tells me how many authors are targeting the magazine for publication and is usually a good gauge for popularity among writers; this usually ties to pay scale and circulation along with a general buzz factor among the writing community. What it does not tell me is my actual statistical chance for acceptance, a subtle point that writers may overlook. For example, suppose Magazine X has received 100 submissions in the past year and published 20. I could think to myself, “Given that they published 20 stories of 100 last year and that they’ll likely do the same this year, my odds of getting published are 1 in 5 or 20%.” That would be true if getting published was based on a lottery system where stories are picked at random. Never think in those terms, or you will be quickly overwhelmed. Instead, consider that some markets have a lot more submissions than others, so if you submit to a more popular market, your story will need to stand out that much more.

Another statistic I find helpful is the average response time. This obviously helps in understanding how long the wait will be (on average) before a response is sent. When I find markets that seem extremely unresponsive, I avoid them so as to avoid throwing my story into the same black hole with everyone else.

Once I’ve submitted, I start tracking pending responses, that is authors who reported submitting to the market and are now waiting for a response (like me). I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but this kind of statistic is extraordinarily helpful in determining if I’m waiting for a response well past when others received theirs. On several occasions, this has revealed to me that my submission fell through the cracks, giving me the chance to query the editor about the submission without looking impatient (since I know about many others who already had responses to submissions sent after mine).

There are many other statistics available as well, but the three I’ve mentioned are what I primarily focus on. At least, they help me 85% of the time.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Changing Jobs

I’m not the sort of person who changes jobs frequently. In software development, however, change is inevitable, and that often means employment changes as well in order to work with different technologies or to explore new opportunities that can’t be found within the walls of one’s current employer.

In 2009, the software development company I worked for was acquired. I was fortunate to remain with the new parent company, but the technology path for the parent company was one that I didn’t want to go down because I felt like I was too invested in other technologies and had little desire to make the switch. I waited and waited (not very patiently at times) for a new opportunity, and earlier this year, I was offered a senior position with another software development company that’s taking the technology path I want to pursue.

Today, I’ve been with the new company for a week, and so far, it seems to be a wise decision. God led me to a lot of possibilities, and for a while, I wasn’t sure if I would be moving on at all. Doors closed for strange reasons with other companies, but then I would find out later that such companies wouldn’t have been good for me (for example, two were acquired and a third turned over a significant number of staff). It was quite a ride, and I’m glad to be through that transition.

Change is never easy, but I think it’s easier to accept when it’s a change for the better.